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Insulin Resistance 101

Updated: Mar 14, 2019

Quick anatomy Lesson:

Insulin is the hormone released by your pancreas upon the digestion of food, carbohydrates specifically. When your body breaks down the carb source into glucose (sugar) and releases it into your bloodstream, your pancreas releases insulin, which takes those floating glucose molecules and transports them into your cells where they are either 1. stored as glycogen for a more immediate use or 2. stored as fat for a later use.

How your body responds to the intake of carbohydrates and how effectively insulin moves glucose out of your blood stream determines your insulin sensitivity.

A healthy, non-insulin resistant person would have a high insulin sensitivity. This means that they are able to quickly and effectively produce insulin after eating carbohydrates and that insulin is able to transport all of the glucose molecules out of the bloodstream into the cells. It also means that most of the glucose broken down is either immediately used for energy or stored as glycogen, and very little stored as fat. A person in this case would NOT be insulin resistant (because they aren’t resistant to insulin, instead they are sensitive).

A person with low insulin sensitivity does NOT respond quickly or effectively upon digestion of carbs and there is a disconnect between insulin and glucose molecules. This low-insulin sensitivity characterizes insulin resistance.

In insulin resistance, your pancreas still releases insulin after the digestion of carbohydrates. Unfortunately, your body is resistant and slow to this insulin release, and insulin is only able to transport some of the glucose molecules into the cell for energy use or glycogen storage. In this case, many of the glucose molecules are still in the blood stream. Here, most of the glucose is stored as fat and the remaining glucose molecules stay in the blood stream. This keeps signaling the pancreas to keep dumping out insulin…making your insulin resistance worse.

In other words, your body is just overworking itself. It’s like in school when you get so much homework that you fall slightly behind. Then the rest of the semester is spent just playing catch up and you never have a break. Instead of homework, it’s glucose. Instead of you, it’s your pancreas. Instead of completing homework, it’s producing insulin.

Insulin resistance is caused by a number of things:

1. High carb diet

2. High processed food diet

3. Birth control (all hormonal kinds: pill, IUD, NuvaRing)

4. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

If left untreated, insulin resistance predisposes you to metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Insulin resistant people struggle with weight gain, fatigue, and energy slumps. They also struggle to lose weight. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to lose weight with insulin resistance because glucose keeps getting over-stored as fat.

SO how do you know you have insulin resistance?

The easiest and most definitive way is to test your fasting glucose with a glucometer, which is just an easy couple bucks at a local pharmacy store. In the morning before eating after a 10-12 hour fast (basically before eating breakfast and having eaten dinner the night before), you test your glucose levels. A healthy individual will have a level between 65-85 mg/dl. An insulin resistant person will have a level >100 mg/dl. If you fall between 85-100 mg/dl, then it’s worth going through the steps to reset your insulin sensitivity.

Other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue

  • Drowsiness

  • Mid-day slumps

  • Belly fat

  • Unexplained weight gain

  • Inability to lose weight

  • Fatigue and exhaustion after eating carbs

Here’s an even easier test, although a bit more subjective: if you have to take a nap after eating a bowl of oatmeal, you’re likely insulin resistant.

Alright, so you’re insulin resistant? What do you do to fix it?

The good news is that it’s 100% reversible!!

Steps to fixing insulin resistance:

1. Switch to a high-fat, low-carb diet

Yes you heard me, we’re going low-carb and high fat. Sounds familiar, right? If you think it sounds like the keto diet, then you are correct. The Keto diet, as I’ve claimed before, has its applications and the best one is in resetting insulin sensitivity.

Basically, we want to remove the processed carbs causing your insulin levels to go haywire. We’re basically giving your pancreas a deload. The higher fats will help keep calories up and will also help repair any hormonal damage and inflammation caused by your insulin resistance.

Choose healthy fats: avocados, oils, nuts (walnuts and pecans, not just peanuts and almonds), seeds, coconut, ghee/butter, cold-water fish, etc. Choose grass-fed meats (also good fats).

You’ll want to aim for a macro split of 50-75% fats, 30-35% protein, and the remaining percentage coming from carbohydrates.

2. Remove almost all processed carbs.

Only carbs coming from your diet should be fruits and veggies. Again, we’re healing and the problem is your insulin spike. We want to curb that as much as possible here.

3. Remove alcohol.

Alcohol has carbohydrates, messes up hormone levels and creates inflammation.

4. Lower training intensity

Gotta lower cortisol and reduce inflammation if you want your body to heal. Lower training volume slightly and go for lighter weights, higher reps. If you’re a CrossFitter, remove intensity and go for a “consistent effort” mindset instead of AMRAP or “for time”. On EMOMs, lower reps so that you’re moving, but not crushing your body.

5. Monitor your fasting glucose levels 2-3x/week.

You want to keep an eye on these and pay attention to patterns and therefore, need a couple data points to help you keep track.

6. It’s only temporary!!!

You’re not having to taper your training forever. You’re not having to avoid carbs forever. You’re not having to eat fats 24/7 forever.

Once your glucose levels have dropped below 85 mg/dl, then give it 1-2 more weeks before slowly reversing yourself out of this diet. This means over a few weeks, you’ll gradually drop fats and slowly increase carbs all while monitoring glucose levels. If they stay below 85 mg/dl, then you’re golden. If they spike again, then spend another few weeks or months in the higher fat split.

Remember, this is what a coach does for you. If you think you have insulin resistance, then sign up today for a strategy call to design a game plan set to tackle your insulin resistance!

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